Is Meaningful Casual Sex A Paradox?
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Is Meaningful Casual Sex A Paradox?

Why noncommittal sex is more complicated than we'd like to think.

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Is Meaningful Casual Sex A Paradox?

I lost my virginity to a graduate student from Los Angeles. We’d met at a rundown cafe whose Yelp page complained of an alleged rat infestation. His name was Ken and he was 25. What drew me to him was the peculiar way his mouth was perpetually fixed into a sideways, half-moon shape that was like a smirk but without any trace of smugness. But the two most striking parts of Ken by far were the dinner plate roundness of his face and his small, expressionless teddy bear eyes. Of the things that mattered to him, there was his best friend, a college dropout who sold computer parts in Toronto, and sex.

It hurt the first time. The second time was only slightly better, being not unlike what I’d expected it to be in middle school after a friend told me you could simulate an orgasm by holding in your pee: uncomfortable yet vaguely erotic. Time and the intimate closeness of it all helped rid me of the pain. I came to see what we were doing as more of an act of sensuousness and emotion than of sensuality.

Though it was certainly sexual -- it is sex after all -- its other less lust-driven components, capable of inducing every possible feeling, were what made it special. Gradually, it became more than just banging, evolving into a means of connecting with another human being. Even though we both knew we would grow apart from each other, it was still comforting to have someone to hold in the middle of the night. The inevitable end of our time together only made us savor each other's presence more.

My second and last sexual partner must have thought differently of me. He was a French-born Chinese man who’d broken up with his girlfriend a few months prior to our brief fling. The end of the relationship was as spontaneous and random as its beginning. Just like on the first night, I was sprawled out on a futon in his one-bedroom apartment with him panting directly on top of me. Wanting to impress him with my bilingualism, I told him “Je t’aime.” I love you.

He paused mid-coitus as the words escaped my lips. He then shrank away from me, freeing himself from under the mass of dirty sheets that had entangled us both in an intense albeit slightly awkward embrace. When I asked what he was doing, he explained that it seemed as though I was looking for a boyfriend. “Don’t give me the puppy-dog eyes. See, you’re taking this too seriously. And now I feel bad leading you on.”

“That’s insane,” I said, to which he responded by putting on a pair of men's track pants that had been puddled on the floor.

I tried to reason with him, blurting out every possible thing that might change his mind: People said all sorts of silly things during sex. Why was “love” such a taboo word while dirty talk was permissible if not expected? The French verb “aimer” could mean “to like” just as much as it meant “to love”; it was so ambiguous. And besides, even the definition of love-love was super vast when you really thought about it. And just why exactly did people like him think that every woman was after a long-term relationship? Didn’t he realize how improbable it was for us to have a serious thing together? Was he equating my being female with clingy-ness and idiotic idealism?

He walked me to the subway after he swore to God that we could still be friends. We hugged by the station entrance and he promised to see 'The Martian' with me the next day though he would never show up to the cinema. That was the last time I saw him.

Descending the urine-stained stairwell that led to the turnstiles, eventually forcing myself towards the platform and onto the overcrowded train, I couldn’t help be angry -- angry at myself, at the French Chinese man, at the dishwater-blonde schoolgirl who took the last seat before I could. I felt sick as I clung loosely to one of the cold metal poles that lined the length of the car.

My mind was torn in a million directions. Disjointed thoughts kept me from staring out the window like I normally did during every ride. Everything was a question: Why were people so afraid of forging emotional, temporary connections with others? Why did we only value relationships that didn’t have a foreseeable expiration date? Why was the guarantee of losing people accepted and yet simultaneously ignored the same way death was? Was it really that terrible a fate? And couldn’t hookups satisfy other emotions aside from just lust?

After a few stops, I felt tears brimming in my eyes. People are sure dumb, I thought. So easily affected. I tried to fish a Kleenex from my purse when the train lurched forward, throwing me against the sliding doors.

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